Thursday, August 2, 2012

Before you complain about your maid or give other people advice about what to look for when hiring one, do you even know what a housemaid is?

                I want to write about maids/servants, because many people in the Middle East have no idea whatsoever how to run a household or properly employ servants.  I am going to sound like a total snob or elitist while if you knew me in real life you’d know that I am no such entity, but I am old school despite having opted out of the so-called high life.  You know, and some of my friends are too. Our grandmother’s never washed their own hair (i.e they could afford the services of a ladie's maid in additional to other house staff such as cook, nanny, and parlour maids). This is their experiences and advice combined with mine despite my strict- no maid personal policy. Because as blogger MUMOFTHEANIMAL’s commented, life in the Gulf of Oman is like going back in time to the days of Raj for us women, Omanis and expats alike.

                Since I grew up being taught that life shouldn’t have to change for me simply because the rule of the Raj was over… and often witnessing whole social etiquette of society attended to by a servant class [and support that you do if you hire from out of your own family to attend to such needs as such are attended to by maids] I know EXACTLY what, how, and most importantly, BY WHOM household duties should be done. Regardless whether or not I have chosen to make myself a slave of that kind of society as a mistress purporting it or not.

                I get so SICK of women (expat housewives AND Omani women alike) sitting in circles complaining about housemaids. And/or giving the WORST advice about them {this is to my dear friends as well and don’t mean any offence by it either---love ya’ll}. Advice that comes across as racist. “Don’t hire from this country, or blah blah”. “That nationality does blah blah”. “Check their nails” “don’t let them have a phone or go out”.  “These kind are lazy”. Some women have lucked out with a great servant (and while they call her their maid, she is never that---most people don’t even KNOW what a maid IS) but their advice about how to handle the help is STILL erred and dependent entirely on the maid. Not on the job description.

Why is that?

Well, I find it is because almost everyone in the GCC is nouveau riche from the Arab population (Royal families in many cases as well---if they had servants they were slaves which is an entirely different ballpark for anyone to be playing the same game at). Most of their families did without servants before the 1800s. Even 60 years back. Or they are an expat, who is newly rich due to the payment according to passport system. Whatever way, I find no matter how lucky some women have been with a certain individual servant NONE of them know what a maid is.

A maid is not and is never a cook. There is a difference between a nurse maid and a scullery  maid.  A ladies’ maid is never a parlor maid or butler, the gardener or driver should never be the page,  et al. People who tend to have good experiences with a servant tend to be good at defining a job role or have found a very flexible personage but still can’t give advice that ensures another person have the same experience as them.

Most people who have complaints (or bad advice) about a maid can’t afford one. If that sounds snobby, know that I am saying so all in the defense of the servant/working woman.

To quote a Victorian-era article about the help that sums it up more elegantly than I ever could: “THE servant grievance is being constantly discussed to very little purpose, simply because more people are capable of deploring an evil than suggesting a remedy. Admitting that the class of domestic servants has generally become more deficient in ability than any other body of labourers in the social scale, some allowances should be made for their shortcomings owing to the exceptional circumstances to which of late years they have been exposed… It used not to be so. Middle-class employers did not always consider it beneath them to engage practically in the work of housekeeping. But since the frenzy for display and excitement has seized upon all classes alike, mistresses are apt to impose upon their servants responsibilities which the latter are unfitted by previous training to discharge. Nothing is more natural than that vexations and disappointments should be the result.”

Yes, Middleclass employers did not always consider it beneath them to engage in the practicality in the work of housekeeping. I can’t stress that enough. What has changed from this? People impose on their maids responsibilities which the latter are not hired for or trained for. Or paid for.

My own family has never ever had any complaint about a servant unless they stole. Nor did anyone complain about us (though that DOES amaze me about my own mother and grandmother who I have many complaints about;) ). Why?

Firstly, because we only ever hired help we could afford. Secondly, we gave defined job descriptions and only hired people who wanted that job description and were trained or willing to be trained for it.

In Oman and elsewhere in the Gulf I see the cook (anyone responsible for knowing how to cook and doing so) dusting, doing the laundry and mopping, maybe carrying the bags of her mistress, and/or minding the children. Know, those are traditionally four distinct positions. I myself cannot afford to hire such, and yet almost every maid here in the GCC is treated as such, and that is not even going into not being given days off, and other basic rights due to the employed. This shows that people who are middleclass are trying to act as if they had the housing allowance of the upper class and CLEARLY cannot afford servants trained for such distinct roles divided as they are by CRUCIAL time constraints on how to execute them as meant.

Let me define the different jobs clearly  for everyone:

Housekeeper: Job is to supervise and manage all servants so that the employers don’t have to. Higher salary.

Governess: Her job is to supervise and educate the children. Her role does not include cleaning or feeding, diaper changing ect. .Higher salary is required.

Nanny: Her job is to care for, watch, feed, and occasionally educate the children. Her role does not include cleaning or food preparation of any kind. Higher salary is required.

Nursemaid: her job is to watch, feed, clean up after/tidy rooms [not formal cleaning just wiping up spills picking up toys ect.], bathe, and care for any or all children. Usually up to a maximum limit of six children per nursemaid.

General Maid: Her job includes either the same duties as a housemaid [listed below] or only light cleaning and watching children. Her job role never includes anything to do with cooking or food preparation or serving guests.

House Maid: Her duties include sweeping, mopping, dusting, setting tables, drawing the curtains, clearing plates, cleaning and polishing dishes, making the beds, tidying, answering the phone and door, waiting on guests, and washing, ironing, and pressing laundry. Does not include minding children, washing cars, gardening, or cooking/food prep of any kind.

Parlour maid: Duties include light cleaning, serving guests, and answering the door and phone. Usually only for larger high class households. She also does the shopping for the cook and lady of the house.

Scullery maid: Cleans the kitchen and preps food. Will also cook under instruction. Is not to be employed elsewhere in the house. Might be asked to help with washing the car by the driver/houseboy. Does not otherwise clean the rest of the house or mind children.

Cook: Cooks the meals, may shop for the kitchen’s needs, may also clean the kitchen utensils and dishes in lieu of a scullery maid. Does NOT mind children or clean elsewhere in the house. Higher salary is required.

Ladies’maid: Accompanies her mistress out of home, carrying her bags, packing her items, and caring for them. Duties might include hairdressing, makeup application, and always include itemizing and storing jewelry and clothes, and ensuring the care and repair of such items, and also service of guests. Higher salary usually*

Laundress: Her role is just to do laundry. Usually people higher out to shops for this in the Middle East.

Houseboy: Job is to run errands and fix and maintain the bouse. May also perform the role of gardener if there is not a specialist employed for that purpose. Role does not generally include cleaning.

Gardener: Role is to take care of plants or garden/gardens.

Driver: Role is to drive on demand and service/maintain vehicles. Medium salary usually required*

Butler: May supersede to role of the housekeeper, or the role of the ladies’ maid for the man of house. *Higher salary required.

So there you have it. Most people here are paying and requesting the services of a scullery maid, housemaid, nursemaid, or general maid, but trying to get a household service staff fit for royalty out of one individual person. Which always results in one or two things: a dreadful experience or horror story, or a piece of equally distasteful advice for what to look for when hiring for your household.

Back to the Victorian housekeeping article on minding your servants to conclude: “It is not be expected that any sensible change for the better will take place yet awhile. Not until education proper has corrected the existing false notions of employer and employed, may we hope for a happier state. In the meanwhile, every mistress has it in her power to help the good time in coming, by fulfilling her own part of the contract with her servants scrupulously and diligently and not transgressing the boundaries of the distinct roles her employees should be dispatched with.”
Happy housekeeping;)


Alice said...

very interesting! A great observation that in the Gulf many people demand too much from one person(cooking, cleaning, looking after children etc) and later complain that it's the maid who's not good enough to cope with everything!

I don't have a maid, I simply don't need a live-in maid. The option that would suit me in the future as I get more children and less time is a cleaning lady from the agency coming twice a week for an hour a two to clean only (no cooking, babysitting or ironing).
I noticed that many Emiratis take having a maid as a necessity and a status thing. Because everybody has it, it became not comme il faut not to have a maid, as if it's a shame and below them to do the housework by themselves. Even the poorer Emiratis try to have a maid. I know of some people who have a "hadama" but they dont pay her a salary! Another example is a young family with 1 child living in a 2 bedroom flat that has a maid! It's a fashion to have 2 or even 3 maids now...A lot of expats of different nationalities have maids too. Sometimes it is a necessity or a status thing for genuinely rich people, but for many other, I think, it's a style, fashion mostly.

I had an incident once.. We took 2 small sons of SIL with us to the Zoo in a different city. On the way back my husband went to the restaurant to get us some food, I stayed in the car with the children. One of the boys (5 years old) stretched his foot from the back sit to the front between the seats. I told him to take his leg away and then he said: Inti nafs hadama, intu ma indkum(you are same as a servant because you don't have one). I got shocked. So, he was trying to tell me, he won't listen to me or obey me because I'm just like a poor literate maid that they have in their own house. I got very angry and tried to get it out of him WHO was talking like this about me in his presence. I did not get the answer and my first thought was to talk to his mother about it, so that women (or their children) knew I'm not happy with what they are talking about behind my back, but then I let go. It would not change anything, it's not a big deal, the boy who said it is just a child and if there are adults who say same- well, I don't really care for their opinion in this case. The living conditions of my family is better and the income is higher than of my SIL family. But I guess I ruined my reputation and "status" amongst them forever because I don't mind cleaning my own toilets.

HijabRockers said...

Woaaahhhhaaaaa i love love love this post. I'm so glad that my family only ever hired general maids when I was small and never took advantage of them. But they normally wanna do extra because their friends were expected by their employer to do lots of things. If they do extra, mom always give them extra money or buy nice things for them. All our maids we're extremely nice to us because mom and dad were nice to them. They still keep in touch. The moral is, if we can't do 1000 things in a day from early morning until late night, so does other human beings. Some employers could be so cruel.
Sorry to say, but I was an aupair for an arab family when I was a working-holiday maker in UK and they treated me like I'm some lowlife stupid person from a small country. They don't even allow me to go out from the house except to put the trash in the bin. And the wife warned the neighbor not to talk to me. I walked away just like that after a week. The husband called me and threatened to report me as Al-qaeda. And I was like "Huhh??? Whatever. They won't believe u anyway. Your neighbor can be my witness".
But I don't think all Arab employers are like that. I'm sure there are some who are very well educated and nice to the maids/aupairs.

Anonymous said...

...all this being said, care to do a write up on something similar for those in the working class who have Omani managers who expect us to not only do our duties but THEIRS too?

Things have a long way to go here!

P.S. for someone coming from such class, you might want to do a spell check. It's 'hire' not 'higher'.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Alice: Omigosh, that's horrible. See, I really don't like that thinking. But as the saying goes, money can't buy you class... or manners.

I agree, it is totally a fashion now, and it is like, a fashion people don't understand so they are having issues with it. They don't understand that a live-in maid is still an employee who should have working hours and time off and she's not a family member who they can control what she does in non-working hours if she goes out of the home ect.... And she's not a slave who can do more work than can be handled or is worth her salary ect.... I interviewed a made and she was like, "Madame, please don't make me wash cars in hot sun." I was like, uh, I just want you to be a nursemaid in the hours when I am at work, and just wash up the dinner dishes, and that's it. The rest I can do. The last family she was with made her wash six cars in the afternoon sun, and would get mad at her for not watching the children at the same time plus cooking! Made me annoyed for her sake.

I think it is utterly ridiculous when people have a small flat and get a maid. If you don't need a nursemaid then it is stupid to have a live in miad for a two bedroom house. And stupid to have a maid in that case if the wife doesn't work.

I agree, people think you are less if you wash your own toilets, but I mean, it is actually showing a LACK of class, to not even know a scullery maid, nursemaid, and housemaid are required for the way they think they have to live.

Really rich families or super large ones with the income SHOULD of course get the full staff they require, but many times in the ME I find these households still DON'T KNOW the job definitions for their employees or accord them their rights.

That just goes back to the saying about class. You can't buy it;)

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Hijabi Rockers: I agree, some families are horrible and others nice, but the thing is, everyone should be treating general maids like your family did. Not expect more for nothing. Extra work should be optional and recieve extra payment:)

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Anon: Lol, thanks. I usually just type super fast and press post because I don't have alot of time to use the net these days so typos are bound to be a part of the blog alas:)

I have always had really good Omani managers, so maybe I don't have the experience to write about it, but you could share your story with me, and I could give my thoughts about it?

(And I am saying 'class' becuase that's how other people would veiw where I came from as they laugh at the Omani man I adore and married now who couldn't afford to have me live the high life you know, but I am happy think people like that are small minded and shallow:) ). I don't think income or anything makes people more elite than others ect... I think manners do. Nobility is in education (not necessarily flawless spelling;p) and manners that are tied to ideals. Not in how many footmen a girl has.;)

Laylah said...

That's a very informative post and good points there! Exactly the same thing goes on in KSA.
The same person is hired to do everything. She doesn't know how, forgets, does things wrong..people complain and punish her..but what can she do? Keeping in mind some of these women have never even seen a washing machine before, they don't have any kind of sense of hand hygiene,let alone speak english or proper arabic, yet they are the ones responsible for taking care/educating/feeding children, washing laundry, cooking, cleaning toilets..uff..

I am not judging people who have maids, I know lots really do need the extra help, but like you point out here, they should have specific duties ONLY. And we should still do our share, and especially to teach the kids house chores too.

Alice that is such a horrible thing for them to say about you..Did you tell your husband and what did he say? I would've flipped and taught the little guy some manners on the spot lol

Rawiyah said...

Reading this post made me realise how ignorant i am . I live in South Africa, and we don't refer to housekeepers/ cleaners as servants (it is considered derogatory). They're referred to as domestic workers. And if you unfairly dismiss one, they have the right to take you to the CCMA (Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).

Also, despite the consequences of Apartheid, race differences (hence, class differences) are continuously blurred as domestics' own children are now studying at tertiary level, breaking out of a cycle of poverty.

I do not intend to judge your society - each is different and in the midst of social change in some or other form.

thank you for this blog, it was informative.

Rawiyah said...

Reading this post made me realise how ignorant i am . I live in South Africa, and we don't refer to housekeepers/ cleaners as servants (it is considered derogatory). They're referred to as domestic workers. And if you unfairly dismiss one, they have the right to take you to the CCMA (Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).

Also, despite the consequences of Apartheid, race differences (hence, class differences) are continuously blurred as domestics' own children are now studying at tertiary level, breaking out of a cycle of poverty.

I do not intend to judge your society - each is different and in the midst of social change in some or other form.

thank you for this blog, it was informative.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Rawaiyah: yeah, I prefer just to call [servants. maids, ect] employees. I don't even like domestic workers. But in the article you gotta to prefer to something equivelent to the regional audience, ya;).

Anonymous said...

And the women what has to do? Sit on a chair all day? Must feel very uncalled for anything. Now I understood why arabic guys from high society come to europe for ladies. Because we are independent and they are fascinated about women they able to drive a hausehold and next to it work too.